I have a confession: I loathe the term marketing. As a PR pro, this is a conflict I’ve been trying to resolve for my entire career.
Hearing the word makes my stomach sink. I can’t stand the way people – myself included – look when I say marketing. Eyes roll, a slight turn of the head or shoulder so they don’t catch “it” (the marketers disease), unavoidable expressions, perhaps a grumpy cat face, a slight shiver.
Notice I did not say: I hate marketing. It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that I love what marketing as an industry can achieve for a business. PR especially. As an industry, we have the ability to influence customer and business behavior, create or destroy markets. Unfortunately, it comes with a negative connotation that marketers ourselves have created over time with false promises and hot air. It’s a stereotype that we’ve yet to overcome. Drastic as it might sound, if this were only a personal opinion, I’d be writing about it on a personal blog.
This is a business matter, a disease (whether you’re infected or not) amongst the business community that is more contagious than swine flu. It’s reached consumers, business execs and journalists who’ve turned their eyes, ears and devices off to any form of communication that has even the softest tickle of marketing fluff. For you, who are likely a current or potential client, this is a big problem. For me as a PR pro, and my colleagues in PR or marketing, this is a HUGE problem. And together, we must stop it.
In the debut post for our “Ugh, Marketing” blog series, let’s pull the big ball of marketing fluff out of our…mouths, and stop sounding like marketers. Here are four phrases we should be ashamed of using:
1. Strategic public relations. Synonyms include strategic planning or strategic campaign. Public relations as a function should be strategic to your business. Putting ‘strategic’ in front of PR, or any other business function, won’t make it strategic.
2. Based on customer (or consumer) demand. While market opportunity is fundamental to business success, great customer validation lies in a publicly reference-able list of these customers – including their willingness to talk about your product and the benefits gleaned.
3. We differentiate by being faster, easier, and most effective. Any brand can define what faster, easier and most effective mean. Your differentiators should be unique – as in truly, I can’t get this from anyone else different. Make sure you’re not the only one (as my marketing friends would say) “drinking the Kool-Aid” – customers and analysts should be raising their glasses with you.
4. January 2014: Your Company Announces Yet-To-Be-Developed Product, Available in December 2015. Unless you’re Apple or Microsoft, the good idea from your last product meeting isn’t news yet. Talking about features/functionality that won’t be available for several months will not only will piss off your customers who want what they can’t have, it also puts what’s ‘under your kimono’ (a phrase that should probably retire) on full display for competitors.
There are plenty of phrases to be discontinued; this is by no means an all-inclusive list. And as an industry, marketing has much more to overcome. To be continued…
There are few individuals in this field of mine willing to admit – even for that moment, even for those few seconds when their hands freeze hesitantly, arthritic with self-doubt, above the keyboard – that PR can be a despairingly thankless profession. Do not misunderstand me – I’m not referring to recognition or praise from superiors and colleagues for a job well done. I speak of the never-to-be read pitches, stories, pre- and post-briefing announcements, the introductions to introductory pitches, the follow-ups and the secondary follow-ups and the tertiary follow-ups…all making their home in the junk mail of a blogger whose page my two-year old nephew could code and has a circulation even CisionPoint wouldn’t debase itself to recognize as anything but “not applicable.” It’s this of which I speak.
Briefly, of course. For those Seattle PR’ites looking down at the dark abyss under the Aurora Bridge, poised with your toes curled like a vice over the chilled, bespeckled iron, don’t jump just yet. I haven’t renewed your faith.
A few months ago, I found myself in front of my computer attempting to write Mitch, the owner of a house recently put up for sale. Earlier in the evening, two of my dearest friends informed me that they had fallen in love with the property and it was perfect for them and their two boys, and it had a yard, and a fireplace in the master bedroom, and a fantastic view, and an art studio, etc., etc. The house had been on the market for a day and it had already triggered a bidding war. I responded with the appropriate, “Wow, sounds nice. My entire apartment would fit in the garage and my view is an asphalt wasteland. Good luck with that!”
“We want you to write a letter to the seller and convince him to let us buy the house.” Hmm…I was to write a letter (in their voice) to convince someone I’d never met to select my friends to buy a house I’d never seen? “Aerin, you’re a writer. You can write. Write it!” The level of paranoia in her voice was beginning to make me a little uncomfortable. “Make us cool. You can make us cool. Remember, Mitch is an Artist. We have corporate jobs – we’re just titles on a page. Make us…” I waited for further direction before realizing that I wasn’t going to get any. “Real. You want me to make you real.”
I asked them to each write down five adjectives and their official corporate titles. Then I took my dog for a walk. For any individual reading this who has ever experienced writer’s block, I have this advice: Get a dog. Over feed him. Take him for a walk. By the time you arrive home with five bags of dog shit in your hands, trust me, you’ll have a different perspective on life.
To be clear, I will never consider myself a writer. Steinbeck was a writer, Fitzgerald was a writer, Rushdie is a writer. I spell phonetically and was 17 before I realized that my “oops” was spelled “opps.” Opps. Flaws aside, I am in love with the written word. When used correctly, words can bring down empires, establish religions, forge laws and catalyze revolutions. Words can also get your client a feature in the New York Times, an article in Fortune, on the road to getting acquired or prepped for an IPO. In some very rare cases, words can get your friends a house.
Remember: Me and you – we wield a powerful wand. In PR, we use words to tell stories, to create and share ideas, to amuse and subtly cajole. We bring the human element, utilizing words to make an otherwise flat idea or person colorful, substantial and relevant. It’s not about luck – it’s about skill.
My friends were outbid by more than $100,000 but they got the house anyway. They move next month. Apparently, the owner really, really liked their letter.
A week ago, I relived my college days at Washington State University – although, instead of a dorm I stayed in a hotel. And rather than going to the main strip of college bars, my friend and I went to the “grownup” bar in town to grab a drink after dinner since she works for admissions. Discrepancies aside, I felt right at home! The reason for my trip was WSU’s Murrow Symposium to speak to a group of soon-to-be college graduates about what PR life is like after college. My main take away, other than a great pool of intern candidates, was a lesson on perspective.
My favorite movie quote on “perspective” comes from an exchange between the wise Hermione Granger and Harry Potter in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1. Hermione said, “We didn’t celebrate your birthday, Harry. Ginny and I…we’d prepared a cake.” To which Harry replied, “Hermione…I appreciate the thought, honestly. But given that we were almost killed by a couple of Death Eaters a few minutes ago…,” prompting Hermione to elicit my now daily mantra, “Right. Perspective.”
There’s nowhere better than your alma mater to realize how much life has changed since graduation – and in the most unlikely ways. I’ve been fortunate to find a workplace that fosters learning and growth at such an early stage of my career. If you would’ve asked me where I’d be living after graduation the LAST place I would’ve said is Seattle, even though, according to Gallup’s annual ranking, it’s the thirty-second happiest and healthiest city in America!
As I happily shared my new-found knowledge with the WSU students, it dawned on me how much I have actually learned in the last eighteen months! Going about my day-to-day activities is one thing, but it’s another to recap almost a year-and-a-half of activities in one hour. I touched on my clients, and how business-to-business (B2B) compares to business-to-consumer (B2C), a topic that seemed to elicit the most interest! We also discussed the importance of social media being used strategically for your clients. Most importantly I offered several tips for job searching. My main piece of advice was to be yourself, and be open to trying new things – whoever thought I’d be working with enterprise technology startups? Not me, but I LOVE it!
Although I’ve been on a fast learning curve, I’m looking forward to experiencing even greater opportunities for growth as my clients announce new products, funding, acquisitions, and (hopefully) much more!
Shameless plug: If you’re interested in becoming a Barokas PR intern/employee contact us here, or email firstname.lastname@example.org – we’d love to meet you!
Hear that? That’s the sound of the Front Range gaining serious steam.
With Denver ranking #2 on Forbes’ list of the “Best Places to Launch A Startup In 2014,” Boulder’s notorious startup scene and four large universities within hours of each other, it’s not surprising that the Front Range is a flurry with innovation and growing entrepreneurial spirit. And, as Galvanize opens a new Boulder office in addition to their Denver office and as the new class of TechStars begins this summer, there are no signs of slowing down.
All of this activity has kept the Boulder office busy. We’ve added new clients, launched new products, made new friends in the community and are growing our own Barokas family. In fact, just this week we’ve added another team member. We are now five-strong, plus the talent of the Seattle office, and could not be more thrilled with how the team is ramping up – we’re slowly taking over our Pivot Desk space! (Well, not really, but getting there.)
The recent additions to the team are perfectly timed too. Our long-term Boulder clients like PivotDesk and Rapt Media have been busy with bylines, product announcements, media briefings and events (Rapt Media’s CEO recently spoke at ad:tech and ClickZ Live). In addition, Florida-based WorldLister has a ton of great news on the horizon following their launch in December (which landed on the pages of TechCrunch and Lifehacker). Along the way, we have also worked Boulder’s Mocavo, New York-based MyCityWay and Minneapolis’ LeadPages. Great companies doing awesome work.
But wait, there’s more! We’ve added Boulder-based RoundPegg as well as an Austin-based company that will launch in the coming months. (Side note and a testament to the tight startup and TechStars community: this company graduated TechStars Austin recently!)
As we continue to meet more companies and hear how they plan to shake up industries, it truly feels like the ideas, the companies and the people in the area are firing on all cylinders. We could not be more excited about the energy within the community, and more thrilled about the great potential in the Front Range.
Okay it’s not really a new study and it wasn’t really that scientific, but let’s not get lost in the details. The point is, being a great PR person takes smarts, tenacity, caffeine, creativity, and a great imagination. Barokas PR is looking for the next great mind(s) to join our team. If you are passionate about technology and storytelling, and you’re not a newbie to the world of PR, we’d love to chat with you.
At BPR we embrace a NO BS culture and approach to the work. We’re a smart group of folks who make a habit of drawing outside the lines and rocking the boat. While we take our work seriously, we’re not full of ourselves, and politics have no place in the agency. For 16 years, technology companies have relied on us to tell their stories and help them achieve greatness. We’re looking for the next generation of smart storytellers to join our team and continue the legacy of PR minus the BS. Head over to our job posting here or drop Jack a note if you’re awesome: email@example.com
We were recently asked to provide a prospect with a list of our longest client relationships. While we typically rattle off the same few names in response to this question, I thought it would be fun to pull together a list of our top 10 longest client relationships. In order of longevity (drumroll please):
Pokémon – 10 years! Current client since 2004.
Opsware / HP – 7 years. Opsware acquired by HP in 2007 (PR partner from 2001-2008)
BDA – 8 years. Current client since 2006.
Concur – 6 years
Skytap – 6 years. Current client since 2008.
Clearwell Systems – 6 years. Acquired by Symantec in 2011 (PR partner from 2005-2011)
Redback /Ericsson – 6 years. Acquired by Ericsson in 2006 (PR partner from 2006-2012)
Apptio – 3.5 years
Cascadia – 3.5 years
Classmates – 3 years
As the list demonstrates, we take great pride not only in the work we deliver to our clients, but in the relationships we build with them. If you’ve worked with us, you know that the foundation of our relationship is a true partnership and that we don’t buy in to the client/vendor mentality. We aren’t afraid to push back on our clients to achieve the best results, and we’re not afraid to admit if we’re wrong (because lets face it, no one is right 100% of the time). This philosophy is core to our agency and has produced the long-term client relationships noted above.
Of course, none of these relationships could have been forged without the hard work and dedication of the Barokas PR team. Below are some of the values our team aligned themselves to several years back, and I’m happy to say they continue to serve as a guiding light for our agency.
We Go the Extra Mile
Our team believes in hard work and the power of perseverance. You will never see us accept mediocrity, and we put in the extra hours to make our client’s PR campaigns successful. For example, last year, our team burned the midnight oil to secure customer quote approvals that required real time coordination across India, Boston, Seattle and the Bay Area.
We Say It Like It Is
Our motto – PR Minus the BS – really sums this up. It might not always be comfortable, but being direct saves time and sets everyone up for success. For example, if a run of the mill partner press release isn’t going to drive significant coverage, wouldn’t a client rather hear that upfront then a bunch of lame excuses after the fact? And if it isn’t gong to drive coverage, then shouldn’t you recommend a different strategy for sharing the news?
This is a key tenant to any successful client relationship. Many PR folks have created a bad rap for the industry by overpromising and under delivering, or charging for hours of PR work that don’t net any real results. By holding ourselves accountable, we’ve been a trusted partner in driving our clients’ businesses forward, quarter after quarter, year after year.
I hope that at this time next year, I can add a few more names to the list above as we have several clients nearing the three-year mark. Please check back for an update.
And now, off to Cross Fit to work on a different type of longevity!
In the first week of the Sochi Games, Facebook reported that 24 million people were talking about the Winter Olympics; 6.5 million mentions of the Olympic games were made on Twitter during the same period of time. The International Olympics Committee reported that throughout the past month there have been 1.2 billion mentions on its Facebook and Twitter accounts and its Facebook account grew by 2 million in the first week of the Sochi Olympics. The 2014 Winter Olympics undoubtedly received more social media traction than any other international sporting event to date – but it’s not for good reason. Given the disappointing Olympic Village environment, the majority of social discussion has been about the subpar conditions spectators have encountered during their stay in Sochi.
It’s pretty obvious that the International Olympic Committee wouldn’t want Olympians exposing Sochi’s conditions to the masses. So for the first time, the IOC implemented strict, and somewhat ridiculous, guidelines for Olympic athletes, coaches, officials, and National Olympic Committee personal, setting very limited parameters on what was “acceptable” social media subject matter. For example, official participants are not allowed to post any video or audio of events, competitions or other activities taking place at any Sochi venues or Olympic Village and must get permission from the IOC before posting pictures. It gets stranger—Olympic participants are being asked to only post in “first person/diary format” so it’s not mistaken as editorial or reporting.
So much for commemorating and sharing experiences through social channels, right? Sadly, employing these rules was a futile attempt at maintaining a positive reputation for the Olympics and Russia.
While athletes have had to resist posting to their social platforms, attendees and reporters certainly have not. On February 4, three days before the opening ceremony, Washington Post published a story, “Journalists at Sochi are live-tweeting their hilarious and gross hotel experiences” where journalists shared of some unbelievable situations they encountered on arrival, including water that was not recommended for face washing and huge holes in the sidewalks. And this was just the beginning – multiple Sochi specific Twitters handles were created, most notably @SochiProblems, which now has over 338k followers, and focuses on the outrageous circumstances people are experiencing. The viral Sochi images being shared on Twitter are rather ironic given the Sochi Olympics are already over budget (to a record $51 billion) yet the Village resembles a construction site. To further intensify the social sharing, on February 6, NBC News reported that 26,000 Tweets used the hashtag #sochiproblems within 24 hours.
Social media has made the world flat and in the case of Sochi, has allowed global exposure of the IOC and Russia’s extreme unpreparedness for one of the world’s most renowned events.
Although the majority of the Sochi social media conversations have been surrounding the disappointing conditions of the Olympic Village, social media has also served as a positive vehicle to spread awareness of the stray dog crisis in Russia. In fact, Today reported that several American Olympians, most notably slopestyle skiing silver medalist Guy Kenworthy, are extending their stay to help upwards of 1,000 strays dogs collect the proper paperwork to be adopted. A trending hashtag, #SochiStrays, showcases the adorable pups and their respective new owners.
All the while, from the broadcast perspective you’d never know what was happening behind the scenes—the opening ceremony was beautiful and encompassed the traditional spirit and global excitement of the Olympics. The b-roll of the mountains, village and surrounding areas are breathtaking. From what was portrayed on TV, the Sochi Olympics were an absolute success.
Yet, who’s to say that there haven’t been previous Olympic games that were just as unprepared as Sochi? The difference today versus former Olympic games lies in the power of social media. What we see on TV versus what we’re seeing from bystanders live on the ground in Sochi is the real, uncensored experiences. With the click of a couple buttons, Olympic fans and reporters have the power to expose the good, bad and ugly and spread the message to millions of international social followers. Not even Russia has the power to revoke the perception of Sochi once a picture has been posted and shared via social channels. Social media has leveled the playing field, where the average consumer has the power to disseminate a message on a global scale, and unfortunately for this year’s Olympic games, it’s to the detriment of the International Olympic Committee and Sochi.
PR has a ‘furry’ side at Barokas Public Relations, thanks to a community of passionate animal lovers at our offices in Seattle and Boulder. While juggling multiple projects and keeping our clients happy, a group of us set aside some time to help raise awareness for a cause close to our hearts - a cause that let us become the voice of the voiceless.
Animals Vote, a non-profit organization dedicated to saving lives of animals, launched its “No-Kill Mondays” campaign in December 2013 and needed assistance in building awareness, both regionally and nationally. When we first heard of Animals Vote and their upcoming announcement, our ears twitched. This was a genuine opportunity to raise awareness about the inordinate number of animals killed in shelters every day. Animals Vote struck a chord with us, inspiring us to donate our time and expertise to a good cause.
What did we learn along the way?
Unlike a typical client, a volunteer group comes with its own set of unique challenges such as availability of time and resources. Barokas PR took charge of all the moving threads and ensured a dispersed team was on the same page at all times through steady communication. Much of our work involved building relationships with stakeholders across geographic locations, developing key messages and leading regional press outreach. In an effort to gain ground locally, we reached out to local shelters that had signed the No-Kill Monday petition and secured tier-one broadcast and press coverage in both Seattle and Boulder regions. Check out coverage in The Examiner in Colorado, along with a couple plugs on local Seattle broadcast stations: KING 5 and Q13 FOX.
Most importantly, we saw that the best results could be achieved by balancing strong emotions on this sensitive topic with hard-hitting facts behind No-Kill Monday’s campaign. In addition to interviews with No-Kill Monday shelters, we presented the following statistics to demonstrate why animal euthanasia needs attention:
According to Animals Vote’s sister organization, DogsInDanger.com, it’s estimated that roughly 4 million dogs and cats are euthanized in America each year – an amount that totals 11,000 deaths daily.
Research also shows that each day a pet remains in a shelter their chances of living increase by 8.3 percent.
The prevalent culture of killing in most animal shelters will not be wiped away with a brushstroke. Instead, it’s a process and through continued education we believe this practice can be eradicated over time. As Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
We hope shelter animal euthanasia will soon be a bitter reality of the past so that our four legged friends are given a chance to find their “furever” home.
Interested in learning more about No-Kill Mondays? Visit Animals Vote website here or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When it comes to Seahawk’s football, I’m a diehard fan. This doesn’t mean I can rattle off the season’s stats on command, that I know everything there is to know about the players to the point of borderline stalking, or that I find myself scrubbing blue and green glitter off my face every Sunday. What it does mean is I’m the chick in the room every guy looks at sideways when I call a flag on a play before it’s thrown, screams at the TV when we should be executing a pass play over a running one, and places bets on if Pete Carroll will go for it on the 4th down (I haven’t lost yet).
What I love about football is the strategy. Richard Sherman and I have this in common. He’s known for being a student of the game, spending hours pouring over film and sharing his insights in a constant stream of chatter to his teammates. Don’t believe me, check this out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VbQGlO0B5nY
Besides having a Ph.D in sneakiness, Sherman is also an absurdly smart Stanford grad with a degree in communications. So, rather than me wasting time running my mouth debating his PR nightmare, I’m going to try an squeeze something a little more productive out of this situation.
Here are the top 3 strategies PR professionals should steal from Richard Sherman’s playbook:
If You Want the Team Behind You, You Gotta Call the Play
Sherman didn’t give us 12s the setup. As quarterback, perhaps Russell Wilson can give him a few pointers on calling plays, because without any context on his history with the 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and Michael Crabtree to us his response following the game came across like the rant of madman. Then tweets like these start flying back and forth that night between Sherman and Crabtree, and knowing what we know now about the backstory and the bullying, our man’s mindset and passionate reaction is a lot more understandable. We may even empathize, or get a little mad ourselves.
So how the heck does this apply to PR? Listen, we’ve all been on the briefing call when a client skips right over the company download and dives straight into the product announcement leaving the reporter oddly dumbfounded. Next time that happens, now you’ve got the world’s greatest analogy to give them around why it’s imperative they never do that again.
At some point in every PR professional’s career they will have to advise a client on how to apologize publically. Richard Sherman did a great job of perfectly executing what I’ve dubbed the #sorrynotsorry. He expressed remorse for taking attention away from the team while showing no regret and pointing out that he no control over other’s reactions at this point. Then he delivered his crushing not sorry with his strategically planned comeback during a Beats by Dre commercial that I’m sure made even Gabourey Sidibe jealous. We in PR should remember that in some situations when the media spotlight is already on your client and the pressure’s on for an apology it doesn’t have to end there. If you plan it just right, it could also be a golden opportunity for them to shift their story.
Legion of Boom: Don’t be cliché if you want to make some noise
I don’t think I could say it any better that Erin Andrews: “You expect these guys to play like maniacs and animals for 60 minutes, and then 90 seconds after he makes a career-defining, game-changing play, I’m gonna be mad because he’s not giving me a cliché answer, ‘That’s what Seahawks football is all about and that’s what we came to do and we practice for those situations.’ No you don’t. That was awesome. That was so awesome. And I loved it.” She loved it so much she immediately knew it would go viral and Sherman even got a hug from one of the Sexiest Women in broadcasting out of the deal, not bad.
The PR takeaway: it will always be safe to do something someone else has already done, to tell a story that’s already been told. On the flip side, it’s risky to be bold, but sometimes it’s well worth the reward and the best way to cut through the noise.
PR is all about strategy. It is our job to know what to say, when to say it, how to say it, and who to say it to. And sometimes, traditional PR methods need a shake up.
While planning for a recent announcement for PivotDesk, it was clear the news would not resonate with national press as it was centered on two markets – Boston and Portland. We counseled the client on the best ways to generate local press, and strategized on ways to create buzz on a national level. We looked to social media and got creative. Literally.
Understanding your audience is the key to success. Whether it’s a corporate launch, funding announcement, or social media strategy, each message needs to be targeted accordingly. The best thing about working with our clients is that they are not afraid to demonstrate the personality of their company. We wanted to make sure anything we did through social media stayed true to their voice and resonated with their audience.
We took a look at the social presence and discovered there is a very interactive following on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter. Knowing we couldn’t simply post or link to the press release, we strategized on a few unique and personal ways to interact with the community.
Here’s what we did: For Facebook, we recorded a video of the CEO discussing the news. It was less than 1:30, quick and easy to listen to and digest, and described all the most important details of the announcement.
We found that a lot of current and potential customers follow the brand on Twitter, so we decided to tweet the most important information from the press release in a way that sparked interest and engaged the reader.
As far as Pinterest was concerned, we created an aesthetically pleasing visual that would capture the attention of our audience. We told the story of how we navigated the road to launch and all the behind-the-scenes work it took to get there through a visual that every Pinterest follower loves – a recipe card.
We’ll let the product speak for itself (the guy in the goofy chef hat is the CEO):
After any launch or creative campaign, it’s important to look at metrics in order to measure ROI. Here are the results our social media campaign generated:
-Second highest day on the blog since April 1 -Third highest day on the website since April 1 -2,400+ people reached, most popular FB post of all time for Pivot Desk
Traditional PR methods are important when it comes to generating awareness, but don’t let the old means of communication hinder your ability to reach a broader audience. Through our social media campaign, we were able to build upon the client’s personality, and extended the reach of the announcement much further than if we would have only issued a press release. Don’t be afraid to take a small risk; you might be surprised of the results.